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How Long Do You Have to Sue a Doctor in Maryland?

If you were injured by medical malpractice or your doctor committed a serious error like misdiagnosis or anesthesia mistakes, you could face increased medical expenses, lost wages, and serious pain and suffering.  This could entitle you to file a lawsuit against the doctor – and perhaps the hospital.  However, these lawsuits usually have strict deadlines that mean you need to file the claim quickly.  Our Baltimore medical malpractice lawyers at Rice, Murtha & Psoras explain how long you have to sue a doctor in Maryland and when that deadline can be extended.

What is the Statute of Limitations on Filing a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit in Maryland?

Most civil and criminal cases are governed by a rule called the “statute of limitations.”  These statutes put a time limit on every claim so that cases are not filed too long after the injury occurs.  Under Maryland Code § 5-109(a), medical malpractice cases in Maryland must be filed within 5 years of the date of the injury or 3 years of when the injury was discovered – whichever is earlier.

This means that if you suffered an injury from a surgical error and woke up after the surgery to learn that your doctor did something wrong, you usually have only 3 years to file.  However, if you suffered an injury you did not know about, you might be able to wait 5 years to file.  For instance, if you were injured because a doctor left a surgical sponge inside after surgery, but you did not learn that the sponge was there until 4 years after the surgery, you will still have 1 year left to file your case inside the 5-year deadline.

Always check with a Maryland personal injury lawyer for help determining the specific rules in your case.

Statute of Limitations for Surgical Mistakes Involving Minors

Sometimes, the law extends the deadline to file for minors.  Under Maryland Code § 5-109(b), there is an exception to the general rule for minors under 11 when the injury occurred.  This law gives them until they turn 11 years old before the 5- or 3-year clock starts ticking.  This gives children a little more time to be able to learn to articulate what’s going on with them so that an injury from medical mistakes can be discovered.

Additionally, there are exceptions for injuries to patients under 16.  These exceptions under § 5-109(c)(2) apply specifically to injuries from a foreign object left in the body or injuries that affect the patient’s reproductive system.  In either case, the 3- or 5-year clock does not start running until the victim turns 16 years old, giving them further time to discover the injury.  These exceptions override the 11-year old exceptions, so that any child under 16 who suffers one of these injuries – including children aged 11 or younger – has until they turn 16 before the clock starts ticking.

Discovery Rule for Maryland Medical Malpractice Cases

Many states have a rule called the “discovery rule.”  This usually allows you to extend the deadline to file your case if you did not know about the injury and what caused it.  For example, many people feel pain after surgery and might not tell their doctor about it, but the injury could become suspicious when they seek a second opinion years later and their new doctor tells them they shouldn’t still feel pain.  it is often in situations like this that a patient discovers that their initial injury was actually caused by malpractice, and they usually have no reasonable way of knowing that the pain or injury wasn’t normal until they get a second opinion or learn new information about their injury.

Many states account for this by allowing the statute of limitations to be “tolled” or paused until the patient discovers their injury and its cause.  Maryland has a bit of this discovery rule included in its general statute of limitations: if a patient did not discover their injury, the 3-year deadline doesn’t start running until they do discover the injury.  However, the outside 5-year time limit still shuts down claims that are filed after 5 years of the date of the injury, making this a very strict deadline.

Fraudulent Concealment in Maryland Medical Malpractice Cases

If you did suffer complications during your procedure or your doctor committed some kind of mistake while treating you, they should usually tell you about it.  This can prevent you from wondering what happened and allow you to avoid pain and suffering by getting the help you need as soon as possible.  This will also usually let you file your case quickly, since you know that you were the victim of errors or mistakes.  However, some doctors will refuse to admit they were wrong or will actively conceal the cause of your injury from you.

This is often called “fraudulent concealment” in a medical malpractice case.  This kind of fraud occurs any time a doctor tells you a different cause of the injury or lies and tells you that they do not know what caused the injury.  If your case was delayed because you trusted your doctor’s false statements and did not suspect malpractice, the statute of limitations should be tolled or paused.

This means that you have until you learn of the true cause of the injury until the 3-year statute of limitations clock starts ticking.  Alternatively, the clock will start ticking from the time you should have discovered the injury.  This prevents people from being able to file a case that they delayed by being willfully ignorant or sitting on their heels when they have a real health problem to investigate.

Call Our Maryland Medical Malpractice Lawyers for a Free Legal Consultation

If you or a loved one suffered injuries or experienced intense pain after surgery, call Rice, Murtha & Psoras today.  Our Baltimore personal injury lawyers might be able to help you help you investigate the cause of your injuries and file a lawsuit for medical malpractice against the doctor who caused your harm.  For a free legal consultation on your case, call us today at (410) 694-7291.